A first in the United States, Boston’s annual participatory budgeting process centred around youths is now in its third year. Initiative Youth Lead the Change involves the city’s (youth (aged 12 – 25) in phases of Boston’s municipal decision-making processes, as committees of ‘change agents’. It was started by former mayor Thomas Meninoin 2014. The process begins with crowdsourcing ideas from around the world during a 2-month phase (more than 700 ideas which were submitted in 2016). A meeting is then held at Boston City Hall, bringing the city’s youth together in committees of ‘change agents’ to select the ideas to develop into city proposals. This is followed by a public vote to allocate the annual budget of US $1m million.
A milestone from the 1989 case study where the community in Porto Alegre, Brazil, voted in their budget, participatory budgeting is seen as a disruptor in democratic action. Youth Lead the Change brings to the spotlight the voices of youths by creating officials channels for feedback, and actively engaging in co-designing solutions with the participants for better directed resources, and effective action.
Civic innovations such as participatory budgeting also promote alternative means for channelling ground - up activism and promoting genuine cross-sector collaboration, further reinforcing social ties and improving community resilience.
More importantly, the youth are enabled to view issues persistent in their daily lives and living environment, as opportunities, and are given agency to use creativity to tackle the issues striking closest to them. The model is replicable in many participatory processes in communities around the world.
Since Boston launched the Youth Lead the Change, other cities are taking notice, with Seattle and New York City following suit in 2015, lowering the minimum voting age.
Come for the pizza, stay for the power: why Boston let teenagers set its budget (March 31, 2016). https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/mar/31/boston-pizza-teenagers-budget-youth-lead-change
Youths Lead the Change. https://youth.boston.gov/youth-lead-the-change/